After an 11-0 season that included nine shutouts, the boys of the West Philadelphia Tarheels Mitey-Mites were hoping to roll into the playoffs and continue their domination all the way to Disney World.
But a mid-season change by Pop Warner officials has pulled the prize of a Florida trip out of the reach of the inner-city kids, leaving them, their coaches and parents huddling together in disappointment.
Caiya Whitehead, the team mom, told FoxNews.com that the undefeated group of seven, eight and nine-year-olds had just played their first regional playoff game when they learned Nov. 9 that the prize rules had changed. Pop Warner had decided weeks earlier that they would not be awarding the two top teams a trip to Disney, as was the case last year. Instead, they selected two teams at random for the highly-coveted prize.
"We were devastated," said Whitehead, whose son, Kal-el, is a quarterback on the team. "Everyone was crying. It was heartbreaking. These boys work really hard and we've never lost a game."
"This was not a fair way to handle it," she said of the decision by national Pop Warner officials. "They should have contacted us before we paid out money for the regionals. We were not told that this was going to turn into an invitation-only thing. We were amongst the teams in the bracket for making it to Florida."
Josh Pruce, a national spokesman for Pop Warner, said he was sorry the 17 boys are disappointed but he defended the decision as fair.
Pruce told FoxNews.com that Pop Warner has always selected teams at random for the trip to Disney, with the exception of last year.
"The Mitey-Mites is a training division that is not competitive," Pruce said Friday. "There's no winners or losers in our Super Bowl."
However, the teams played through a playoff system in 2014 and the top two teams went to Disney, according to Pruce.
"It became very competitive and we didn't want that," he said. "Years prior it's just been picked randomly and this year they decided to go down that same road."
The decision was made by national and Eastern Region Pop Warner staff during the third week of October.
That decision, Pruce noted, "was communicated down through the league but then it wasn't communicated very well down to the parents."
Bryan Tucker, president of the West Philly Tarheels Youth Football and Cheerleading Association, told Philly.com he found out about the decision after the Tarheels won their regional game Nov. 7.
"We're real sorry these kids are so disappointed," Pruce told FoxNews.com. "There was a lot of miscommunication from adults."
Pop Warner said the two teams picked to represent the Eastern Region at Disney World this year are from Burlington County, N.J., and the Jersey Shore -- from leagues that have not gone before, according to Pruce.
Whitehead said while her team is disappointed, they will continue to play at their best.
"I explained to my son that life can be disappointing sometimes," she said. "He's keeping his head up."